New Britain, CT
As part of the Museum’s Art & Education Expansion and reinstallation of the permanent collection the NBMAA recently unveiled a new permanent Shaker Gallery, one of only three found in U.S. art museums, alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The gallery was the brain child of Trustee and Shaker authority Steve Miller, who curated the standout and popularly received 2010 exhibition Inspired Innovations: A Celebration of Shaker Ingenuity that featured 300 works from the Miller Collection plus loans from seventeen other private and public collections. For the new gallery, the plan is to rotate pieces from the Miller Collection as well as gifts and loans from others on a regular basis, in order to keep the exhibits fresh and engaging. Each ”Focus on:” will have a different Shaker theme.
The Shakers’ have had a vital connection to Connecticut. On her first missionary trip in 1781, Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers’ spiritual leader, made an early stop in the town of Enfield, home of the Meacham family. Joseph Meacham soon became the first American-born leader of the sect. From its establishment here in 1792 to its closure in 1917, the Enfield community was among Mother’s most powerful legacies, and an appropriate focus for the inaugural Shaker exhibition.
The exhibition features many rare and authentic items from that community—furniture, small crafts, textiles, and works on paper. There are significant gifts of objects from several generous donors including nine objects from the widow of a direct descendant of the Enfield Shakers; all these initially came from Eldress Caroline Tate, the last leader of the community.
The centerpiece, however, is a majestic ”case piece” that was once built into the Laundry Building at Enfield and is now in the permanent collection of the NBMAA. The piece has 22 drawers and is surrounded by six cupboards. It was built in 1858 by the master Shaker craftsman, Grove Wright and has never been touched.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.